Blues Is King
For many years, I thought that I
had enough live recordings from B.B. King.
I had owned Live At Cook County Jail back
in the cassette tape days, and one of my first
purchases upon converting to CDs was Live At
However, several years ago, I was talking to
another B.B. King fan, and he recommended that I check out
Blues Is King and I would then have THE live B.B. King
recording. I was taken aback a bit because, at the time, I
didn’t even know that Blues Is King was a live album. I
rarely saw it in the record stores after I started listening to
About eight months ago, I found a copy at a used
record store, and was amazed at my good fortune. I’d only
recently seen it in the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, where it
was priced at nearly $30, or on various online stores where it
was about the same price or more. I paid $5 at the record store
for a practically new copy, and it could possibly be the best
five dollars I’ve ever spent.
Blues Is King was recorded a couple of
years after Live At The Regal. Both were recorded in
Chicago, but Blues Is King was recorded in a smaller,
more intimate locale, The Club, which was managed by DJs Pervis
Spann and E. Rodney Jones. Also, on the Regal set, King had been
backed by his big ensemble, but on Blues Is King, he’s
backed by a five-piece band (Duke Jethro – organ, Louis
Satterfield – bass, Sonny Freeman – drums, Kenneth Sands –
trumpet, and Bobby Forte – tenor sax) and they do a masterful
job supporting the King of The Blues on these ten songs.
King sounds magnificent on guitar. I think maybe
the smaller band benefits him because sometimes his guitar and
his voice would be overwhelmed by the horns in his ban. Ever
watch him on TV when he would appear on the Tonight Show and the
blaring horns would drown him out, which was no mean feat given
the sound of his booming vocal and his stinging fretwork. One of
the things my friend pointed out about Blues Is King is
how well it captures King’s personality and charm, as well as
his rapport with the audience. In a sense, the REAL B.B. King is
on display on this set.
The song selection is first-rate as well.
Several songs would have been familiar to most fans (then and
now), such as “Gamblers’ Blues” (this was the last time he ever
recorded it), “Tired of Your Jive,” “Don’t Answer The Door,” and
“Night Life” (written by Willie Nelson, but King pretty much
owned this one after he started covering it). There are several
other songs that he performed less frequently, at least as time
marched on, such as “Waitin’ On You,” “Blind Love,” “I Know What
You’re Puttin’ Down” (some wonderful guitar work on this track),
and “Baby Get Lost.” You may not have ever heard these songs and
you’ll probably wonder why after you hear them rendered on
Blues Is King.
I’m not sure whether I agree that Blues Is
King is the definitive live B.B. King recording. The song
selection is more familiar on the previously mentioned live
sets, but I think his performance is better on this set,
certainly as inspired and energetic and maybe more so.
Apparently, many blues fans agree because the album was inducted
into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2018, actually the third live
King album to earn the honor (can you guess the other two?). If
you haven’t heard Blues Is King, I encourage you to check
it out and see what you think.
--- Graham Clarke